Stephen Volz joined the Kenyon faculty in 2004. His general field of expertise is African history, with particular interest in Africa's global interactions, the role of religion in African societies and the region of Southern Africa. Prior to coming to Kenyon, he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Botswana and a high school social studies teacher in New York City.
Volz's research focuses on African cultural changes during the early colonial era, with numerous publications on the impact of Christianity in Tswana communities. He teaches a wide range of courses on various aspects of African history, including a survey course on African cities and seminars on women's history, South African apartheid, and connections between religion and politics. Volz is also actively involved with International Studies at Kenyon and served as director of the program during 2012–2015.
Areas of Expertise
Africa, colonialism, history of religion
2006 — Doctor of Philosophy from Univ of Wisconsin-Madison
1999 — Master of Arts from Univ of Wisconsin-Madison
1989 — Master of Arts from Washington University
1985 — Bachelor of Arts from Valparaiso University
Courses Recently Taught
This team-taught seminar explores the 20th century in global comparative perspective, through the reading, contextualization and analysis of mainly primary source texts and documents. In any given year, the seminar focuses on one of two themes: the post-war world (ca.1945-1989) or the inter-war world (1919-1939). It takes up themes of broad political, economic and social transformations; scientific and technological innovations; and the cultural shifts that occurred throughout these decades preceding and following the Second World War. The seminar sections meet jointly once a week for lectures or films and separately once a week for discussion of primary-source readings. In addition to the rich historical material that the course addresses, students begin to learn the basic skills of the historian: asking questions, finding and analyzing relevant documents or primary sources, and identifying different kinds of interpretations of those sources. This counts toward the modern requirement for the major. Open only to first-year students.
This course is a survey of major events and social changes that occurred on the continent of Africa before 1800, with an emphasis on those that took place after 500. As the continent encompasses hundreds of different societies, each with its own history, this survey is necessarily far from comprehensive, instead focusing on select cases in various regions that illustrate larger trends and issues. Among the main topics are smaller-scale societies, kingdoms that arose in different parts of Africa, the spread of Islam, the arrival of European traders and the impact of the transatlantic slave trade. Recurring themes in the course include state formation, religion, geographic diversity, cultural exchange and the roles of archaeology, linguistics and oral histories in the reconstruction of Africa's early history. This counts toward the premodern and Asia/Africa requirements for the major. No prerequisite. Generally offered every year.
This course examines the history of Africa from 1800 to the present. It employs a range of books, articles, novels and videos to explore 19th-century transformations in Africa, European conquest of the continent, the impact of colonialism, the coming of independence, and recent challenges and achievements in Africa. The influence of Europe on Africa is a dominant theme, but the course emphasizes African perspectives and actions in that troubled relationship. Throughout, we consider issues of resistance, identity and cultural change, paying particular attention to the recent roots of current situations in Africa, such as the democratization of some nations and endemic violence in others. This counts toward the modern and Asia/Africa requirements for the major. No prerequisite. Generally offered every spring.
This class examines various ways that people and ideas from the United States have influenced Africa during the past two centuries and how Africans have responded. Although much interaction has been at the level of governments and organizations, we focus primarily on the history of U.S.-African relations at the social, personal and local level within Africa, studying specific examples of transatlantic cultural, economic and political influence that changed over time and varied between different parts of Africa. Among the cases to be considered are several involving African Americans, such as the founding of Liberia and the development of Pan-Africanism. Other topics include Christian missionaries; explorers; the Cold War; and recent U.S. political, economic and humanitarian interest in Africa. This counts toward the modern and Asia/Africa requirements and the colonial/imperial field for the major. No prerequisite. Offered every two or three years.
This course explores the role that towns and cities have played in African history, tracing the development of urban areas from early times up to the present. In regarding urban areas as integral features of African societies, the course questions stereotypes of Africa as essentially rural and traditional, examining instead African capacities for cultural synthesis, adaptation and innovation. Among the general themes studied are urban-rural relations, trade, political centralization, industrialization and globalization. Given the immensity of the continent, the course focuses on a select assortment of urban areas as case studies, utilizing a range of sources such as archaeology, memoirs, government documents and literature to understand their histories and current situations. This counts toward the modern and Asia/Africa requirements and the colonial/imperial field for the major. No prerequisite. Offered every two or three years.
This course explores social changes that have taken place in Africa during the past century as portrayed in novels and films by and about African women. A variety of works from throughout the continent is considered, but the general focus is on the impact of colonization, urbanization and other recent social changes. Among the topics addressed are polygyny, motherhood, education, religion, employment, political activism and the recent AIDS epidemic. In each case, the emphasis is not on victimization or cultural decline, but – as expressed in their works of art – the resilience and adaptability of African women. This counts toward the modern and Asia/Africa requirements and the women, gender and sexuality field for the major. No prerequisite. Sophomore standing. Offered every two or three years.
This course explores major social and political changes that took place in South Africa during the 20th century. From the time of British colonization through the rise and fall of the apartheid state, a variety of competing groups emerged that eventually combined to form the nation of South Africa. That process was accompanied by recurring conflict, but with the end of enforced racial segregation in the 1990s and the introduction of democracy, South Africans have been re-examining their past in search of new narratives that might transcend the legacy of historic divisions. Through study of scholarly works, primary documents, literature and film, this seminar explores the roots of modern South African society and the varying perceptions of that history. This counts toward the modern and Asia/Africa requirements and the colonial/imperial field for the major. No prerequisite. Sophomore standing. Offered every two or three years.
This course focuses on the conceptual frameworks used by historians and on debates within the profession about the nature of the past and the best way to write about it. The seminar prepares students of history to be productive researchers, insightful readers and effective writers. The seminar is required for history majors and should be completed before the senior year. Open only to sophomores and juniors. This counts toward the practice and theory requirement for the major. Declared history or international studies major only.
Throughout Africa’s history, religion and government have been inseparably linked as fundamental elements of society. Authority and achievement, in all spheres of life, are generally based on certain assumptions about the operation of unseen forces and the submission of individuals to a higher power, whether human or divine. Allegiance, civility and justice are as much religious phenomena as they are political. This seminar examines leading cases of religiously inspired politics -- or politically motivated religion -- from different places and times in Africa, studying key aspects of the relationship between faith and power and seeking greater understanding of regional variation and historical change in that relationship. A recurring theme is the role of indigenous African beliefs and their interaction with Christian, Islamic, and modern understandings of power. The seminar culminates with individual research papers by students on topics of particular interest to them. This counts toward the modern and Asia/Africa requirements and the colonial/imperial field for the major. Prerequisite: HIST 145, 146. Offered every two or three years.
The goal of this course is to give each history major the experience of a sustained, independent research project, including formulating a historical question, considering methods, devising a research strategy, locating and critically evaluating primary and secondary sources, placing evidence in context, shaping an interpretation and presenting documented results. Research topics are selected by students in consultation with the instructor. Classes involve student presentations on various stages of their work and mutual critiques, as well as discussions of issues of common interest, such as methods and bibliography. Open only to senior history majors. This counts toward the senior research seminar requirement for the major. Prerequisite: HIST 387. Offered every fall.
Individual study is available to students who want to pursue a course of reading or complete a focused research project on a topic not regularly offered in the curriculum. This option is restricted to history majors and cannot normally be used to fulfill distribution requirements within the major. To qualify, a student must prepare a proposal in consultation with a member of the history faculty who has suitable expertise and is willing to work with the student over the course of a semester. The two- to three-page proposal should include a statement of the questions to be explored, a preliminary bibliography, a schedule of assignments, a schedule of meetings with the supervising faculty member and a description of grading criteria. The student also should briefly describe prior coursework that particularly qualifies him or her to pursue the project independently. The department chair must approve the proposal. The student should meet regularly with the instructor for at least the equivalent of one hour per week. At a minimum, the amount of work submitted for a grade should approximate that required, on average, in 300- or 400-level history courses. Individual projects will vary, but students should plan to read 200 pages or more a week and to write at least 30 pages over the course of the semester. Students are urged to begin discussion of their proposals with the supervising faculty member and the department chair the semester before they hope to undertake the project. Because students must enroll for individual studies by the end of the seventh class day of each semester, they should begin discussion of the proposed individual study by the semester before, so that there is time to devise the proposal and seek departmental approval. Proposals must be submitted by the third day of classes to the department chair.
The honors candidates enrolled in this course will devote their time to the research and writing of their honors theses under the direct supervision of a history faculty member. This counts toward the senior research seminar requirement for the major. Students enrolled in this course will be automatically added to HIST 498Y for the spring semester. Permission of instructor and department chair required. Prerequisite: HIST 387.
The honors candidates enrolled in this course will devote their time to the research and writing of their honors theses under the direct supervision of a history faculty member. This counts toward the senior research seminar requirement for the major. Permission of instructor and department chair required. Prerequisite: HIST 387.
This course is designed for sophomores who plan to major in international studies. It explores the evolution of modern international society by examining the roles of industrialization, capitalism, nationalism, individualism and other elements of modernity in propelling and directing the flow of wealth, people and ideas between different regions of the world. In addition to studying general political and economic changes, the course considers various local and personal perspectives, giving life to otherwise abstract forces and complicating attempts to construct a single overarching narrative of "modernization," "Westernization" or "development." Among the issues to be examined are the causes and effects of international economic disparities, migration, cultural tensions and stresses on the environment. In surveying major viewpoints and illustrative cases within these themes, the course is meant to serve as an introduction to the international studies major, utilizing a variety of academic disciplines and providing a foundation for further study of relations between different nations and peoples of the world. As part of the course, students complete a research paper related to the geographic area where they plan to go for their off-campus experience. This interdisciplinary course does not count toward the completion of any diversification requirement. No prerequisite. Sophomore standing. Offered every year.
Individual study is available to highly qualified juniors and seniors who would like to pursue a course of reading or complete a focused research project on a topic not regularly offered in the international studies curriculum. This option is available only in exceptional circumstances and must focus on topics specific to international studies, rather than those more suited to another department. All proposals must be approved by the International Studies Program director. To be considered for an individual study (IS) project, the candidate must prepare a proposal in consultation with a member of the international studies faculty who has suitable expertise and is willing to work with the student over the course of a semester. Because students must enroll for individual studies by the seventh day of classes in a semester, candidates should begin outlining their planned course of study with the supervising faculty member and the program director the semester before they hope to undertake the project. In all cases, proposals must be submitted by the fourth day of classes in the semester when the IS will take place. The two-to three page proposal should include a statement of the questions to be explored, a preliminary bibliography, schedules for meeting with the supervising faculty member and completion of work, and a description of grading criteria. Students also should briefly describe prior coursework that particularly qualifies them to pursue the project independently. The program director will, in conjunction with the supervising faculty member, review the proposal and decide whether to approve it.\nFor all international studies IS projects, certain conditions apply. The student is required to meet regularly with the instructor for an average of at least one hour per week. The work involved is substantial: For a 0.50 IS, the amount of graded work should approximate that required in a full credit 300- or 400-level course in the social sciences, humanities or sciences. For a 0.25 IS, reading and writing requirements will be approximately half of that amount. Individual projects vary, but students pursuing an IS in international studies should plan to read approximately 200 pages a week and to write at least 25 pages over the course of the semester. Because students must enroll for individual studies by the end of the seventh class day of each semester, they should begin discussion of the proposed individual study by the semester before, so that there is time to devise the proposal and seek departmental approval. This interdisciplinary course does not count toward the completion of any diversification requirement.